Building a low-end smartphone is about balancing compromises in order to hit a specific price point. Certain devices (the Nokia Lumia 610 comes to mind) miss the mark completely. Other devices such as the Nokia Lumia 620 and Sony Xperia L could be considered rather decent in their own right. When Nokia launched the Lumia 625, currently one of the lowest-cost LTE-enabled smartphones on the market, I was of the opinion that there are only two reasons why this device exists: to satisfy carrier demands for free-on-contract LTE handsets in developed markets and to satisfy consumer demands for affordable large-screened smartphones in emerging markets, which is a segment that Samsung has come to dominate. CJ has already reviewed this device, but now that the Lumia 625 has spent some time on my desk and in my hands, here’s my take on where the Lumia 625 succeeds and where it fails.
This is a device that retails for S$0 on a 2-year contract and S$399 outright, which means that one naturally has to calibrate his/her expectations a little. If you consider yourself to be a power user or a technology enthusiast in any sense of the word, the Lumia 625 is clearly not for you. Even though this is one of the largest-screened Windows Phone devices available right now, there are lots of things about this device that will put you off – you don’t even get to enjoy certain highlight features such as Nokia’s Glance Screen and double-tap to wake. Even the Smart Camera app offers a lesser experience than higher-end Lumia devices due to RAM limitations.
The 4.7-inch 480×800 LCD display is poor; while the large fonts and user interface elements in Windows Phone 8 make up for the low pixel density somewhat, there is no getting around the fact that you will always regard the Lumia 625’s display as being something less than sharp and crisp. Viewing angles are almost nonexistent as the display darkens significantly as you tilt it off-axis and you won’t find very accurate colours here (blacks are represented as a very dark grey while whites are slightly yellow).
The display lacks any sort of oleophobic coating, which means that your finger oils quickly form a thin film on the glass, which is in turn difficult to clean off. The capacitive Windows Phone buttons on the face of the device lack any sort of backlighting and the physical buttons on the side are on the thin and flimsy side. You’ll find that the 5-megapixel rear-facing camera isn’t anything to write home about; your food pictures are likely to turn out muted and slightly out of focus even at the best of times. The loudspeaker is merely average in terms of sound quality and volume; it is easily muffled by a stray finger. Finally, while the Lumia 625 has 8GB of internal storage onboard, about half is occupied by the OS and preinstalled apps leaving you with 4GB for your apps and games. Clearly, a microSD card is a necessity here.
If you haven’t closed this review in anger, you’ll be glad to find out that there is also a lot to like about the Lumia 625.
The Lumia 625 deserves praise for being an extremely solid and well-built piece of hardware. Despite its relatively large size, its aggressively curved frame makes it very comfortable to hold and interact with; it almost feels like a smooth pebble that has been flattened out. The materials (primarily matte plastic and a sheet of curved Gorilla Glass 2) used on the Lumia 625 are durable and high-quality despite the device’s low-end positioning; this phone feels better built than an average Samsung device, with no creaking or flexing to be found. The fact that the physical build of the Lumia 625 is of such a high standard already differentiates it from most of its competitors; a potential buyer handling the device in a store is likely to walk away rather impressed with it. Obviously, the Lumia 625’s eye-catching colour palette will also help it stand out on a store shelf.
If there is one thing that Windows Phone 8 has truly succeeded at, it is providing a very decent user experience on low-end internal components. Indeed, the Lumia 625 is very smooth and fluid in everyday use with little to no lag; in fact, its performance is virtually indistinguishable from the Lumia 925 in most scenarios. Tasks like text messaging, email, web browsing, scrolling through Twitter timelines, posting photos to Instagram and switching between apps are accomplished with no slowdowns whatsoever. In fact, I never experienced any lag regardless of the apps I used or the number of background agents I’d enabled. Indeed, there isn’t really much to describe about Windows Phone 8 on the Lumia 625 that has not already been described before. This device ships with the Amber update out of the box, bringing improvements that are largely under-the-hood enablers for Nokia’s software additions. The Lumia 625 also gets relatively decent battery life out of its non-removable 2000mAh cell; I was able to reliably achieve around 16 hours of mixed use on a charge even with LTE enabled, which places it among the more power-efficient LTE smartphones I have reviewed.
The app ecosystem, for what it’s worth, has enough going for it for a less demanding user; I can’t really find any major gaps in the Windows Phone Store’s offerings that have not been addressed either by Nokia or a third-party developer. While power users may bemoan the missing features and lack of flexibility in Windows Phone 8 compared to its rivals, the persistent downsides of Microsoft’s smartphone platform are less likely to negatively affect people with simpler needs In a nutshell, the Lumia 625 (much like the rest of its low-cost siblings in the Lumia range) offers a user experience that exceeds one’s expectations of a low-end offering.
The fact that low-end LTE smartphones are beginning to hit shelves is a very positive development. LTE is a technology whose appeal is only understood if you’ve experienced the speeds it delivers, which tend to fall around the 20-30Mbps mark on both uplink and downlink connections in Singapore. However, is the Lumia 625 the LTE smartphone of choice for people on a budget? I’d argue that there are better options available right now, even if the Lumia 625 is indeed free on a 2-year, S$39-per-month contract with SingTel. For the same amount, you could have a Sony Xperia V, a waterproof smartphone with a dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 CPU running Android 4.1 Jelly Bean with a 4.3-inch 720×1280 display and a 13-megapixel camera. For S$70 more, you could instead pick up a Sony Xperia SP; for just S$100 more, you could have a Nokia Lumia 920 with its 4.5-inch 720×1280 display, 32GB of internal storage, built-in inductive charging and (still more than competent) 8-megapixel PureView camera.
The Nokia Lumia 625 definitely faces stiff competition in its on-contract price bracket, and I would personally question the wisdom of going out of one’s way to choose a low-end smartphone from this year over a discounted flagship smartphone from last year, knowing that one will have to settle down with this device for 2 whole years before being able to pick up another subsidized handset. If the prospect of living with a smartphone with a display you probably will not enjoy looking at for 24 months does not put you off, the Lumia 625 is a decent option if you’re seeking an LTE smartphone on a budget. Otherwise, it is my opinion that there are better choices on the market today.